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Fanfare Magazine # 34:5 (05-06/2011)

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Alia Vox

Code-barres / Barcode: 7619986398761

Appréciation d'ensemble / Overall evaluation : "If this one doesn’t win a Grammy, I give up!"
Reviewer: Christopher Brodersen

Here is the sequel to Jordi Savall’s highly acclaimed Vol. 1 of the series La Ruta del Nuevo Mundo titled “Villancicos y Danzas Criollas” (Alia Vox 9834). A one-man musical industry, Savall has devoted much of his energies in recent years to revealing the mind-boggling wealth of material from Latin America. The focus of the present CD is the “Andalusian Caribbean,” which is to say, Madeira and the Atlantic islands of the Azores, the Canaries, and Cape Verde, the springboard for the cultural conquest of the Americas. Eventually a trade axis called “the Indies run” extended from Seville and its seaport, Cádiz, to Veracruz and Campeche on the Gulf of Mexico, all the way to the Philippines. Another route, called “the route of the galleons,” linked Seville, Portobello, Cartagena, and the kingdoms of Quito and Peru. The fascinating world of soldiers, traders and missionaries is outlined in an excellent essay titled The Sea of Encounters, and is required reading before diving into this CD.

By 1600, the indigenous music of these far-flung areas had absorbed the Spanish idiom to such an extent that it was possible to speak of creole music; Cervantes in fact wrote of the “American mulatto” when referring to the chacona, one of the typical forms. The music often contains heavy doses of the popular (or indigenous) idiom, both ancient and modern, as well as the musical language of the slaves, and requires well-developed improvisational skills. A proper performance therefore requires musicians who are at home with the astounding diversity of styles. Savall has enlisted his usual ensembles, as well as a new one, the Tembembe Ensamble Continuo, a group of musicians from Mexico who specialize in the performance of modern-day folías criollas, or old songs with new words. You can’t mistake the distinctive sound of the two Tembembe singers (man and woman) when they take a solo: totally unschooled in the operatic sense but possessing great power and expression. Their vocal renditions conjure up a view of the distant past, when the Arawak or Aztecs still ruled the New World.

Put on nearly any track and you will be rewarded with up-tempo, life-affirming music like no other. The disc opens with a foíias criollas called “Gallarda napolitana” featuring improvisations by Savall on treble viol. This is followed by the haunting cachua “El Niño il mijor” for full ensemble. The jácaras of Gaspar Sanz is reminiscent of the fandango and features the omnipresent guitar accompanied by a raft of percussion. Savall’s wife, Montserrat Figueras, takes a star turn in the tono humano “Trompicávalas amor.” The seguidillas en eco “De tu vista celoso” is a rousing number with castanets and vocal soloists from the Capella Reial. The fandango “El Fandanguito” of de Murcia begins quietly and builds to an exciting climax. The Canarios (track 12) is an improvised instrumental with excellent solo work from Savall. The most unusual number of all is perhaps the Xicochi Conetzintle, a sacred work from the Cathedral of Oaxaca, Mexico, that employs the full ensemble. Ostensibly a motet in the Nahuatl language to the infant Jesus, it fairly rocks with excitement and joy; daily Mass in Oaxaca must have been a blast with music like this. Another stirring cachua follows, titled “al nacimento de Christo Nuestro Señor.” The disc concludes fittingly with the guaracha “Ay que me abraso” of Zéspedes, featuring the full ensemble. The piece starts with solos on sackbut and cornetto, followed by the singers of the Capella and the Tembembe taking individual verses. Immense fun is had by all concerned.

The sound on this SACD is quite stunning, but the CD layer is scarcely less impressive. Note that I was able to listen in two-channel mode only; I can imagine that the surround sound adds a whole new dimension of enjoyment—I’ve got to work on upgrading my system. Full texts, notes and translations in seven languages, including Castilian and Catalan, are provided. If this one doesn’t win a Grammy, I give up!


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